Driving with a Suspended License: What You Need to Know

If your license has recently been suspended and you’re considering driving—don’t. Driving with a suspended license is a surefire way to make a bad situation worse.

If you’ve already made the mistake and been caught, it’s important to weigh your legal options to find the best way to proceed.

This page will discuss:

  • What it means to have your license suspended.
  • Ways you may be able to drive legally with a suspended license.
  • The penalties you face for driving with a suspended license.

Suspended License—The Facts

Licenses can be suspended for a variety of reasons. Usually, the state will suspend your license if and when they determine you demonstrate carelessness behind the wheel, or a disregard for laws and safety.

These reasons may include:

  • Committing a serious traffic offense, such as a DUI or DWI.
  • Failing to pay:
    • A traffic ticket or make a court appearance.
    • Child support.
    • Court fees.
  • Being convicted of too many infractions.
  • Racking up too many points on your driving record.

Each state has its own specific rules regarding suspended licenses. For example, failing to pay a traffic ticket and late fees in New York will result in your license being suspended, while in Hawaii, you just won’t be able to renew your license until you take care of it.

In many cases, the reason your license was suspended will affect the:

Some states use a point system to identify serious traffic offenders, while others simply tally the number of convictions you sustain.

Length of Suspension

There’s no way around it—getting your license suspended is a serious setback. The good news is, suspensions are temporary. To ensure your suspension doesn’t last any longer than it has to, and to avoid more fines, jail time, or even permanent revocation of your driving privileges it’s important that you DO NOT drive while your license is suspended.

The length of time your license gets suspended, can depend on:

  • The state you live in.
  • The severity of the offense that led to your license being suspended.
  • The number of points or convictions you’ve accumulated.
  • Whether you’ve taken the necessary steps and paid the necessary fees to reinstate your license.
  • Whether you’ve violated the terms of your suspended license, and how many times you’ve made this mistake. For example, your suspension will likely be extended for a longer period of time, or possibly even revoked indefinitely, if this is your 2nd or 3rd offense driving on a suspended license.

One thing that’s for sure, state agencies suspend driver’s licenses in an effort to limit the number of dangerous drivers on the road. Penalties are designed to keep people from breaking the rules, and habitually crossing the line will worsen your punishment.

If you’re unsure whether your license has been suspended, contact your state’s DMV (or similar agency). This information will also be visible on your driving record. Each state has its own process for requesting a copy. If your license has been suspended due to convictions, knowing what’s on your driving record will help you take the right steps toward getting it cleared.

Are you now sure your driving privileges have been suspended? Let’s move on to learn what you need to do next.

Driving with a Suspended License

The best way to proceed after you get your license suspended is to NOT DRIVE ILLEGALLY. Getting caught driving with a suspended license will compound your problems, no matter what.

In many circumstances, you may be able to apply for a restricted or hardship license that will enable you to drive in certain situations while your regular driver’s license is suspended.

Penalties for Driving with a Suspended License

Each state enforces different penalties for driving with a suspended license, which can vary from a steep fine to a stint in jail. A 2nd or 3rd offense driving on a suspended license can have you serving weeks or months behind bars.

For example, in California if you’re caught driving after your license was suspended for reckless driving, you’ll have to:

  • Serve between 5 days and 6 months in county jail.
  • Pay a fine of between $300 and $1000.

In the same state, a 2nd or 3rd offense driving on a suspended license for reckless driving within a period of 5 years results in:

  • A jail sentence of between 10 days and 1 year.
  • A fine between $500 and $2,000.

In some states, the reason your license was suspended affects the penalty for driving with a suspended license. In the case above, the reason for the suspended license affects the penalty for subsequent offenses—repeated offenses for driving with a suspended license for reasons besides reckless driving carry a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 5 days.

To provide another example, in Louisiana, anyone caught driving with a suspended license may be:

  • Fined up to $500.
  • Jailed for up to 6 months.
  • Forced to pay a civil penalty of up to $1,250.

A 2nd or 3rd offense driving on a suspended license in Louisiana WILL result in:

  • A fine of between $300 and $500.
  • A jail sentence of between 7 days and 6 months.
  • A possible civil penalty of up to $1,250.

So, what did we learn?

No matter what state you live in:

  • DO NOT drive with a suspended license!
  • Definitely DO NOT do it again after you’re caught!

How a Restricted License Could Help

Many states have programs that enable you to drive under certain circumstances even while your license is suspended. This is sometimes called a restricted license or hardship license.

Whether or not you are eligible for a restricted or hardship license will likely depend on:

  • The number of convictions you have.
  • The severity of your conviction(s).
  • If you can prove you need to be able to drive:
    • To and from work to stay employed.
    • To take your children to and from school.

With a hardship license, you’ll likely be restricted from driving except in certain circumstances like those mentioned above. You’ll also likely only be able to drive during certain hours.

The reason your license has been suspended may affect the steps you need to take to apply for a hardship license. For example, a California driver who has had their license suspended for DUI should be able to reinstate their license with a course of employment (COE) restriction, as long as they can provide proof of:

  • Insurance.
  • Enrollment in a state-approved DUI program. This is a course aimed at reducing the number of repeat DUI offenses and alcohol-related collisions.

Getting Caught Driving with a Suspended License

If you’ve been caught driving on suspended license, you’ll need to contact a lawyer immediately. A good attorney will be able to:

  • Represent you in court.
  • Subpoena witnesses.
  • Negotiate a plea bargain.

When you’re placed under arrest, it’s important that you remember your rights and exercise your right to legal counsel. Don’t panic—try to remain calm and not lose your temper, as arguing with the police can often make your situation go from bad to worse.

You may be able to get your charges reduced or dismissed if you can prove mitigating circumstances such as a medical emergency or similar factors, and the penalties for driving on a suspended license will likely be less severe if you were driving safely before you were pulled over. On the other hand, additional offenses such as reckless driving or DUI will compound the punishment for driving with a suspended license.

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